Where are the thoughtful debates related to transgender rights happening
April 14, 2016 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Can you point me to thoughtful discussions related to transgender rights and locker room/bathroom access? The stuff I see in my social media streams are crazy extremes that talk about child molestation on one end or bigotry on the other end. I'm interested in more thoughtful discussions of these issues.

I'm mostly interested in the pro access side that responds to the idea that while the trans person feels that they were born a particular gender and has taken steps to correct their physical gender to match their true gender, somebody else may persist in seeing them as the physical gender that they were born into and would not feel comfortable changing in front of somebody they view to be the opposite gender. So why then should the feelings of the trans person trump the feelings of the other person? I know Ask isn't a place for debates, and I'm not looking for that here, but I'm looking for pointers to where intelligent debates around this topic are happening.
posted by willnot to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You're not finding the debates you want because to transgender people (and cis people who are reasonably well-educated on trans issues), this is a basic human rights issue. Calling it "bigotry" doesn't represent an extreme; it's the reality as most trans people (at least, all the ones I know and whose writing I have read on the subject) experience it. They don't want to debate this any more than anyone ever wants to debate a basic denial of their personhood. If you want writing that breaks down the issue clearly for cis people who might feel uncomfortable (like the person in your example), that's an easier question to answer.
posted by thetortoise at 10:42 PM on April 14, 2016 [61 favorites]

If transwomen are women, why wouldn't they be legally allowed to use the women's bathroom? (And same for transmen.) There is really nothing to say after that.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:52 PM on April 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

The point is, this is an illogical issue in the first place. Everything about child molestation in bathrooms by trans people has been manufactured by the people who want to legislate transgender people out of existence. You are seeing extremes because the dichotomy in this debate is the attackers versus the attacked.

The people in the middle are not having nuanced discussions about this because it's been a non-issue for decades until someone decided to make it one. These bathroom bill campaigns are being run on pure rhetoric.

This article looks at HB2 from a historical perspective and maybe help elucidate why people are calling it bigotry.
posted by sevenofspades at 11:34 PM on April 14, 2016 [15 favorites]

Lambda Legal has an explainer about bathroom rights for transgender people that will cover a lot of the basic points, and has other good info on their site for learning more.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:00 AM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

In addition to the basic existential / dignity issues raised above there is the question of enforcement:

Do you want police to harass people as they attempt to use restrooms?

If no, then you should allow people to use the restroom that matches the gender that they identify with.

If yes, then you might be OK with banning trans people from the restrooms that match the gender that they identify with.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:15 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone else here, and TLDEF's information about sex segregated facilities might be helpful as well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:28 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you're not finding it because because there isn't a lot of nuance there to discuss. This is about personhood, as thetortise said. Reframe the last paragraph of your ask as a white person being uncomfortable sharing facilities with people of color, or a straight person being uncomfortable sharing facilities with homosexuals and you'll start to see why there is a limited ability to have a moderate and thoughtful discussion on this topic.
posted by ananci at 1:59 AM on April 15, 2016 [25 favorites]

I've just read this article this morning, and I think it hits the nail - What’s Really Behind the Angst Over Transgender Bathrooms?
posted by Vortisaur at 2:15 AM on April 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

want to second vortisaur's link.you need to read past the first few paras, but it eventually does make an attempt to understand this and discuss what it is that, perhaps, is troubling people.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:11 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's Paisley Currah on legal strategy and "trans panic"; he's not super sympathetic to the idea that the other side has a point but he does try to think about what might be motivating those pushing for things like the North Carolina law.
posted by felix grundy at 5:32 AM on April 15, 2016

Someone posted this link on my feed recently that really illustrates the impossible choices here:

In summary, an officer of the law outright threatens a trans woman using the women's room, but also says he doesn't want trans women in the men's room either.

I'm not sure if he thinks trans people just shouldn't use the bathroom, ever, or just doesn't want trans people to exist.

Regardless: even if they are bigots, yes, some cis women might be uncomfortable with trans women in a women's locker room. But some cis men definitely have a problem with trans women using the men's locker room, too.

Trans people pretty overwhelmingly tell us which bathroom they want to use. If there is always the possibility that either cis men or women will be uncomfortable, we may as well let trans people make the choice they are comfortable with.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm feeling proud of Metafilter right now.

What is hard to believe is that those concerns have any grounds beyond what's expressed on vortisaur's link and that the people PROMOTING those concerns are moved by anything other than bigotry. Those people are mostly men, not women. In my experience the big majority of people who have any problems with my condition of trans, in or out of the restroom, have been men.
posted by Promethea at 6:10 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe I need to reframe the question since a lot of the answers seem to be along the lines of the question as asked is unanswerable.

Many courts and laws recognize that somebody is what they self-identify as. Since I suspect that the initial view of the courts and laws was not nearly so enlightened, what persuaded the courts and legislators that somebody is what they identify as instead of what their external characteristics would suggest that they are?
posted by willnot at 6:18 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Regarding women in open showers, I don't think (???) anyone is shouting down the possibility of greater privacy for trans or cis people who desire it. But it would be discriminatory to say that only trans women MUST use the private shower, because, well, it's not (or it shouldn't be) illegal to make someone feel uncomfortable just because you exist in public.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:23 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Look towards Ms. Manners and other etiquette books because this is a social issue and should not be a legal one.
posted by myselfasme at 6:25 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

researching how individual states deal (or not) with the issue of changing gender markers on birth certificates, and the history of that issue, might illuminate how things have progressed (or not) as far as legal recognition of gender identity goes.

if there are any non-bigoted, informed reasons to oppose trans people in the bathrooms and changing rooms that correspond to their gender, none of them came up in the hours that my town debated the issue before passing our non-discrimination ordinance. i think you might be falling for the both sides fallacy. i find it instructive to figure out which "side" feels like the only way to win is through fear mongering and lies.
posted by nadawi at 6:29 AM on April 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

This isn't a source but this part of your initial question stood out to me:

"So why then should the feelings of the trans person trump the feelings of the other person?"

From what I understand, this is exactly why we have laws protecting the rights of minorities. If you don't feel comfortable sharing a polling place with a woman or a water fountain or lunch counter with someone of a different race or a bathroom with someone who has genitals that don't look like yours, that's on you. Part of diversity is protecting the rights of minorities, whether they're minorities because of their religion, race, sexual orientation, gender presentation, etc. It's not a trump card. It's a national value.
posted by kat518 at 7:07 AM on April 15, 2016 [39 favorites]

I don't think there are thoughtful arguments to be had, at least on the anti-access side, because "Eek, get them out of here" is an appeal to emotion not to thoughtful discourse. It's intended to provoke fear and discomfort.

Fun historical tidbit, "But what about the sanctity of bathrooms?" was an argument I heard used against the US Equal Rights amendment more than 30 years ago. The argument then was that the ERA would mean that gender segregated bathrooms would be unconstitutional. Oh, no.

In highway rest stops in California, the public restrooms have signs stating "Disabled persons may be accompanied by persons of the opposite sex." Urinating, defecating and getting clean after a workout are pretty basic human needs. I encourage everyone to imagine how challenging and unpleasant it would be to try to get through the week without the convenience of using restrooms as one went about ones business and did ones errands.
posted by puddledork at 7:37 AM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

"So why then should the feelings of the trans person trump the feelings of the other person?"

As a thought exercise in support of what kat158 and others have pointed out -- that this is a civil rights issue -- try turning the question around. Ask why the feelings of the cis person should trump the feelings of the trans person. The only answer that I can think of is that the cis person is in the majority and has more power for that reason. If that's not a civil rights issue, I don't know what is.
posted by merejane at 7:41 AM on April 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

I don't know what kind of experience of women's locker rooms you may or may not have, but the social convention is that whether or not people walk around naked, you do not stare at any part of them between the neck and the knees. You don't even stare at their faces unless they are monopolizing the hair dryer or blocking your locker or something. Mass obedience to this rule is what allows self-conscious people to eventually get over their neuroses and put their bras on without hiding in the bathroom stall to do it. A well-brought-up woman who noticed another woman's penis might, if the possibility of someone having one had never occurred to her, have a moment of "wait, was that a -- ?" but the mental question would have to go forever unanswered because it's not like she could take another look to be sure, because that would be rude.

ha ha, that is a ridiculous fantasy! But slow progress towards civilization is achieved by determined acting out of such noble fantasies. And it is no fantasy to say that anyone who stares at another woman's naked body without invitation is profoundly rude and probably intentionally threatening. Other womens' body shapes are never an issue in such places because they are never my business.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [17 favorites]

So why then should the feelings of the trans person trump the feelings of the other person?

I don't think anyone's claiming that our feelings should trump others' feelings. But feelings aren't at issue here — safety is. Trans people are frequently attacked and harrassed in public bathrooms, regardless of which bathroom we use. Cis people rarely are, and when they are it's usually by other cis people. (There certainly are trans rapists and abusers — but none so far have been reported to prey on cis strangers in public restrooms.) That asymmetry is what justifies special legal protections for trans people.

In other words, you're not seeing debate on the feelings question because nobody is really focused on the feelings question. There is a ton of stuff out there on the safety question. On the "trans people's safety matters" side, this piece from the DC Trans Coalition is a nice succinct example laying out the policy situation in one city, and this recent Rolling Stone article gives a lot of testimonials about the dangers that trans people face.

Many courts and laws recognize that somebody is what they self-identify as. Since I suspect that the initial view of the courts and laws was not nearly so enlightened, what persuaded the courts and legislators that somebody is what they identify as instead of what their external characteristics would suggest that they are?

This actually overstates how much progress has been made here. The courts and legislators have not yet been persuaded of this anywhere in the US.

I transitioned years ago and have identified as female for a very, very long time, but I am still legally male in every state — even in those states where my right to use a women's bathroom is legally protected. I would need a judge to make a special ruling to change my legal sex. And I would be required to present that judge with a doctor's letter, asserting not only that I identify as female but also that I've taken steps to transition medically and that I "present as female" in my day-to-day life. If I'd never started hormone treatment and I showed up to court wearing a men's suit, a judge could say "Sorry, no, I won't declare you legally female" regardless of how I self-identify.

I'm sorry if this still feels like refusing to answer the question. If you want to clarify the question further and the mods aren't okay with you doing it in-thread, feel free to memail me. If you're really interested in knowing more about the ins and outs of the legal situation, and not just in "informing" me that I'm really a man, I'm happy to talk to you about it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [28 favorites]

So why then should the feelings of the trans person trump the feelings of the other person?

Because cis people aren't hurt by the existence of trans people. Because trans people are a minority, are frequently hurt and killed by cis people. Next question.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [18 favorites]

>would not feel comfortable changing in front of somebody they view to be the opposite gender

As a cis (ish) woman who is often called "sir", I can say that people can be made uncomfortable even if both your assignment at birth and current identity match the label on the door. Social comfort isn't a legal right.

>what persuaded the courts and legislators that somebody is what they identify as instead of what their external characteristics would suggest that they are?

The short version is that it's not a straight line march from oppression to acceptance.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:07 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Join the board or attend meetings of your local YMCA during a locker room renovation. Despite this thread there was a lot of very reasonable discussion, and testimony and real lawyers. Everyone just wanted to know the rules and feel safe and instruct their kids to be safe.

We now have a locker room "complex" but it seems to work well for everyone. It's brilliantly laid out too. Still have a coed steam room and hot tub, which are totally fine.

I will say that this issue was DWARFED by the controversy over the elderly ladies who hog the steam room and throw herbs on the fire. They've actually had to shut the steam room before due to the complaints and yelling. The old ladies are approx 98 and have no fucks left about poisoning everyone. Also one of them apparently spits on the floor. The locker rooms had a clear compromise path that everyone was happy to go down. The Y wasn't willing to lose its under-served girls and people were great about understanding that. But several people wished harm on the old ladies!
posted by fshgrl at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, in keeping with fshgrl's story, my experience is that calm and reasonable debate on these issues can be found when the debate is happening on a small, very local scale.

If the question is "Should trans people in general have rights in general?" then you get a lot of grandstanding and invective. If the question is "How should this particular institution accommodate these particular trans members who a lot of us know and like?" then things are a lot more likely to go well (though they don't often make the news unless something goes very, very poorly).
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anti-discrimination laws just opened up the topic. There are a very significant number of parents who have spent time in places like foster care, refugee camps, prison etc that understandably have heightened anxiety about sexual assault and their children. Also expected issues with religious families etc. The surprising thing was the sheer number of people who experienced assault or harrassment in or around locker rooms as a kid. Whether it was the boys spying on the girls, being recorded or photographed without permission, adults being inappropriate, sexual violence in high school boys locker rooms or whatever it was clear people had concrete concerns. Increasing privacy in some ways added to the concerns, especially for men. So one of the main things we got was full time locker room attendants. I cannot tell you how happy that made people. And how bored those poor college kids are that have to spend 8 hours a day averting their eyes and saying "don't run by the showers".

I also freaking love that I can change after swimming without a swarm of kids putting wet towels on my clothes, and generally being in the way. We share the shower/ toilet area but there are kids changing areas that all the classes and most families use now (you can also bring your kids into the grown ups area but most don't) I can faintly hear the screaming and nagging but that's it.
posted by fshgrl at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

And we got a parents lounge. Parents were somewhat concerned about their childrens safety and emotional well-being as described above. They were extremely concerned about the lounge and day care costs. In real life people tend to have much better perspective on what's truly important than on the internet and in the media. So to the OP I'd say get off the internet and go out and volunteer in your community if you want reasoned debate. You aren't going to find it online.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2016

When you ask the second question, "what convinced the courts to accept people's gender identities," that's getting into the advances in understanding on this issue in the last say 15+ years. A lot has changed not just in the public conversation, but in the scientific understanding of what physically underlies people's genders, and in how to talk about and conceptualize the relationships between what we used to call "gender" (meaning something about a person's mental sense of themselves or how they interact with the world) and "sex" (meaning something vague about the shape of their body or their chromosomes or something, often not-fully-specified)...Importantly, those terms (gender and sex) now generally aren't used that way by people who are well-informed on this stuff. There is a lot to catch up on, even to avoid accidentally saying something that sounds like you're intending to endorse outdated views.

For example -- when I say the "scientific understanding" I mean there's more information about how a person's sense of their own gender is built in by chemical and physical processes during fetal development, and there are detectable differences between trans and cis people in the brain and other physical stuff that correlates with people's sense of their gender -- so to talk in terms of this stuff being "just a feeling" goes against the current science of it.

The general public's understanding of this stuff is coming along slowly and is a work in progress, but I've certainly learned a lot in recent years by doing some reading, and have in that process regretted saying stuff that had implications I didn't really grasp at first. This is an area where your baseline common-sense understanding of things might be leading you badly astray, so it's definitely worth doing some reading on this as a precursor to understanding how things stand with regard to bathroom stuff. It's empirically not "one person's feeling vs another person's feeling," so any "debate" that starts with that assumption is working on an incorrect basis.

Here's one very quick link -- the article has some terminology problems but summarizes a bunch of the recent studies showing this stuff is more than "just a feeling", just to give you a jumping off point to follow up and look at the studies they mention. Lambda Legal is another good starting place for info, and if you google "trans 101" you'll get a bunch of good links too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:22 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

(I should say, there are some upsetting stories in the linked article, so heads up to readers, and again the way the reporter frames some of the stuff isn't right, so I suggest to mainly take a look at the paragraphs summarizing the research)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:43 PM on April 15, 2016

Look towards Ms. Manners and other etiquette books because this is a social issue and should not be a legal one.
Safe access to public restrooms should be a legal right for all humans.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:19 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure if this fits into what you are looking for, but I've felt like the NYTimes coverage of this has been really great, talking a lot of about not just the social experiences of trans people effected, but the legal and business implications of such laws. They have also done some very thoughtful coverage on trans rights in prison that really changed my perception about those issues. I think if you just search their website you'll find some things that fit.
posted by Toddles at 7:13 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree that the NY Times has covered this issue well. HuffPost is another good source.
posted by merejane at 5:20 AM on April 16, 2016

I recommend this recent NYT piece by Frank Bruni.
posted by merejane at 6:35 AM on April 24, 2016

Here's something I just wrote this morning on another Mefi thread, hope it helps explain the situation a little clearer.

posted by Annika Cicada at 10:01 AM on June 7, 2016

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